Backchecking in hockey is the process of transitioning from offense to defense, getting back fast in order to stop an attack on your defensive zone by the other team. Those players behind the puck must race back toward their own goal and get into a defensive position—cutting off passing lanes and picking up unmarked opponents.
Hockey Backchecking Basics
A backchecking situation usually begins with a turnover in the offensive or neutral zone that sends the puck going the other way. The defenders are usually already between the puck and their goal, and one of them takes responsibility for the puck-carrier. A forward’s first job is to simply start moving their feet, skating hard to get back. Always skate through the middle of the ice to clog up passing lanes, and keep your stick on the ice.
As you skate back, keep your head up, so you can see the puck and assess the situation in front of you. Look for the unmarked opponent highest up the ice, and get to them as quickly as possible. Ideally, you want to pick up an opposing skater before they get to the blue line. Once you’ve decided which opponent you’re taking on, call it out to your teammates, so they know where you are and which player you’re covering. This communication is a vital part of backchecking, as it ensures that all opposing players are accounted for, and no one is left wide open to receive a pass or attack the goal.
When you reach the player you’re covering, get between them and the goal, turn your heels to the goal line, and get your stick on their stick. Keep your eyes on the puck as much as you can throughout this process, so you can break up any attempted passes near you. Once you’re in position, continue to deny your opponent the puck and access to the area in front of the goal. When all your teammates are back, the backcheck is over, and it’s time to play your team defense.
10 Fundamental Rules of Backchecking in Hockey
- It’s never too late to backcheck. Even if you’re caught deep in the offensive zone, skate hard until you’ve picked up an opponent.
- Skate back through the center of the ice, to deny cross-ice passes.
- Keep your stick on the ice to block passing lanes.
- Communicate with your teammates.
- Keep your eye on the puck, as much as possible.
- Once you’re in the defensive zone, stay between the dots.
- Maintain inside position on the player you’re covering.
- Do not let the player you’re covering get to the middle of the ice.
- Keep your stick on your opponent’s stick.
- Don’t release the player you’re covering until there is a turnover, or everyone is back and the defense is set up.
One aspect of backchecking is applying back pressure—defending an opponent from behind until you can get goal-side. For instance, if a player is racing up the boards with the puck, and you are chasing them down, you want to apply back pressure to force a pass or an error. By simply rubbing up against them, you can break their rhythm, slowing things down and allowing your teammates to get back. You can also try to poke-check the puck away, but be careful that you don’t accidentally trip the opposing player or commit another stick foul. In general, you should always try to steer a puck-carrier outside the dots and to move a player without the puck away from dangerous positions.
Backchecking well requires hard work, good communication, and organization among all the players on the ice. Although it’s not a flashy part of the game, solid backchecking is a great way for a player to endear themselves to their coach and teammates, because it demonstrates a strong commitment to teamwork. Even if you’re not the most skilled player, you can contribute by working hard at backchecking. And by practicing the basics of backchecking and then applying these skills—especially by skating back hard at game time—you can help your team deny goal-scoring opportunities.